Sunday, September 27, 2009

That's What I Call Cosmic

I find it difficult to talk about my book Flipped being made into a movie. It's not because there isn't a lot to say--it's because the unfolding of events has been so surreal. It started with a phone call from Rob Reiner (who is the film's director). He related how he came to find out about Flipped (his son was reading it for school), what he loved about the story (that it captures the magic of your first love in a way he hadn't seen done before), and how he intended to adapt the story to film (by following the book).
There would be changes, of course, but after hearing his thoughtful analysis, I understood why he wanted to make them. For example, he sees the book as having an innocence that was representative of a different era. And in considering the events that transformed us as a nation, he felt that the assassination of JFK was the point where our country lost its innocence. So although I wrote the book as a fairly contemporary story, he's setting the film between 1957 and 1963.
I had no idea what a huge undertaking a "period piece" movie was. But this summer my family and I made a trip to Michigan, where Flipped was filmed, and now I get it. Wow. The attention to detail is unbelievable. From wardrobe, to set "dressing", to street signs, cars, bikes, license plates, t0 playground all has to be verifiably "period". Being on set was so educational...and strange.
For one thing, everyone was so nice to me. So Wow-It's-The-Author. That was completely unexpected. My impression of Hollywood's view of authors (based on some very credible reports) was, Oh that was fine for the book, but a movie is not a book, so don't even think we want anything to do with you! But here a lot of the cast and crew told me they had actually read the book, and I was also surprised by how many of them said, "It's thanks to you I have a job!" My reply was, well, no--if it hadn't been my book it would have been someone else's, but they weren't buying my (very logical) line of reasoning.
Another thing I found strange was that this little thought in my head had blossomed into the enormous project with multiple set locations and warehouses of equipment. In addition to the schools, houses, "fake" houses, and other locations that were used, a former GM assembly plant was transformed into the Flipped warehouse, with construction, paint, art design, and costume departments, plus the business offices and a whole "house" set inside it. Just coordinating everyone's daily schedule seemed a mind-boggling undertaking.
Then there was the filming of scenes that came straight from the book. Something about witnessing this was hard to wrap my head around. I had an idea that became a book that turned into a movie. That's cool. I can follow that. But hearing these real life people speak the words that the characters I had in my head spoke in my head, was weird. It's like everything was backwards. Like I was witnessing something that had been created years ago but was now happening in real time...yet looked like it had happened in the past--a past that occurred before the time of creation.
Yes, I know they were actors delivering lines, but it felt so strange.
Like I said, it's very hard to put this whole experience into words.
But the truly cosmic moment has to do with the sycamore tree they used in the film. As you probably already know, Juli Baker loves the sycamore tree in her neighborhood. In the book (and in the movie) the tree gets sawn down to clear a lot for the building of a home. The destruction of this tree is a pivotal moment in Juli's understanding of her crush's character (or lack thereof). Also, Juli has a special-needs uncle named David. But apparently in the making of movies, names get cleared for use. So if there's some potential conflict with the name of a character (like, say, someone by that name lives in a town by the name used in the story), the movie makers will change the character's name to avoid any legal hassles. Because of this, David Baker became Daniel Baker in the movie.
Rob Reiner told me that the big hurdle for them with the making of this movie was finding the right tree. He wanted to stay true to the story and have it be a sycamore tree, but it couldn't be just any sycamore. It had to be the perfect tree. And it had to have school bus access. And have a surrounding area that worked right. And, and, and. So they were having trouble finding the right tree. But finally the location scout came upon one in a public park that was alongside a basketball court. RR declared it to be the perfect tree and arrangements were made with the city to tear out the b-ball court, pave in a street, shoot the scene with the school bus, tear out the street, and replace the b-ball court...such is the world of movie-making.
But of all of the sycamore trees in the world that might have been chosen, this tree happened to be a very special tree to a certain autistic boy. He has been climbing this tree--climbing way up in this tree (just like Juli does in the story)--for years. He has written things on the limbs ("I love this tree, this tree loves me"). So that connection right there was enough to make me go "unbelievable".
But then I found out this boy's name. And of all the names in all the world, this special needs boy who loves this sycamore tree happens to be named Daniel.
Now that's what I call cosmic.
(Next week: How I Wound Up In Fargo)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Painful Lesson

Earlier this year I made an awkward twisting motion as I moved a guitar amplifier and I wound up wrenching my back so badly that I couldn’t go from sitting to standing, or roll over in bed without being in excruciating pain. It was terrifying. Even using the toilet was a major ordeal. And as I caught glimpses of myself hobbling around the house I felt like I had become an old lady overnight. I have an injury from many years ago—a broken vertebra in my lower back – so I’m no stranger to back pain. This time, though, I was very worried that it would be permanent. It had been about a year since I’d run the New York Marathon for Exercise the Right to Read. As you may already know I’d only run it for the program and had said that that was it for me—I was not going to run any more marathons. It’s a hard distance and the training, I complained, was way too time-consuming. I had other things to do with my life than run! So during that year I’d fallen into a pattern of running four miles every other day. And not having any real goal except fitness…well, it was easy to rationalize not going for a run. My view on it had become tired—it was something I did for wellness, not joy. And then I wrenched my back, and like a slap upside the head I saw how fortunate I’d been to be able to run and how much I’d taken it for granted. Luckily, my back did heal, and when I was able to hit the streets again I had a whole new attitude. Mark and I even ran the San Francisco Marathon this summer for ETRTR. Every day I can run is a blessed day. From now on I intend to celebrate that. (If you want to see a sometimes funny, sometimes educational, sometimes embarrassing overview of our adventure at the SF marathon, click here.) Next Sunday: Cosmic (or, That’s Unbelievable!): Tales from the Flipped Set

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Deal or No Deal?

Sundays. That's my plan. I need some structure that's manageable for me in this fast paced world. With tweeting and texting and blogging and social networking gone mad...and most people seeming to want something, or have nothing to say (do we really care what people are having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Do we really need to see photos of scrambled eggs?), I figured nobody would miss my contribution to this communication chaos. But apparently some of you did, and I'm touched that you let me know. I also feared that this blog and my efforts on behalf of Exercise the Right to Read might be misconstrued as self-promotion. I'm allergic to that idea. It breaks me out in an itchy-witchy rash. I know quite a few authors who are rabid bloggers and seem to have self-promotion as their main focus and end-goal. I understand that it's a survival thing--how else will their book get noticed?--but I don't want to join that race. I'm not in a race against anyone or anything except time. (Time, I know, will defeat me, so how smart am I, huh? Choosing the one race that's impossible to win.) Anyway, just so we're clear on the whole motivation thing, okay? If I talk about my books, it's not because I'm trying to sell them to you. It's because it's a huge part of my life and it's part of sharing that with you. If I talk about Flipped being made into a movie and how amazing it was to see it being filmed, it's not because I'm trying to build up my stature or convince you to see the film and oh, read the book first--it's because it was an unbelievable experience and I want to share it with people who wish they could have been there, too. And if I talk about our band and the songs we're recording, it's not because I want you to buy a CD -- it's because it's a blast (and the most effective therapy ever) to be in a rock band with your husband and sons and make like you're in the Clash. Sound good? Then I'll meet you here next Sunday. 'Til then, I'll be reading and running and of course writing (and rock'n'rollin'). How about you?